Monday, August 12, 2019

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Closing Keynote: Meg Medina

Meg Medina
Meg Medina is the extraordinary, Newbery Award-winning author of Merci Suarez Changes Gears. She's also a NYT-bestselling author of picture books and novels for middle grade and young adult readers.

She shared what she's learned so far in her journey—and it wasn't too long ago when Meg was in the seats along with the rest of the conference attendees.

Here are some of the moments from her wonderful talk.

Meg grew up in Flushing, Queens among a family that had immigrated from Cuba. They'd been middle class and had become poor. Her family members used stories to build a bigger life for themselves. Her grandmother, especially, told these stories, of romance, of landscapes.

"And yet for all of this luscious detail, my family failed in what I consider an essential transmission," she said.

Cuba is known for music—her family isn't musical. Cuba is also known for dance. Her family doesn't like to—and Meg loves it. "This, my friends, is a tragedy."

She was growing up in Queens in the 1970s, the years when Latin music was making a splash. She fell in love with the music then, and from that day to this has been a devoted dancer.
Cuban music is  joyful, even when the lyrics are really about sad things. She taught us the essential beat of Cuban music, and talked about how we all need a sacred rhythm inside of us that never changes.

She said, "I think of my writing as my beat and my clave (a percussion instrument)."

The writing process demands courage. "There is no way to be a children's writer without willing to be scared," she said. "Deep writing means that we have to go inside ourselves, which is possibly the scariest universe of all."

Meg's theme is not just childhood, she said. It's girls and their family and their culture and how that intersects with childhood. She's answering questions she did not dare ask when she was a child.

She mines her own memories for stories. "We remember for a reason, even if our muddled brains refuse to let us in on the secret of what that reason it, at least at first."

Meg does a 10-minute exercise every day called "I remember." She free-writes about a moment she remembers. She once wrote about her roller skates, which she refused to take off each time she climbed the steps to her apartment when she had to pee, and her mother would yell at her in Spanish.

"It's your job to follow the vine of memory down to the root and yank it up," she said. "It's your job to ask the tough questions that are sometimes easier left unasked."

Follow Meg Medina on Twitter.

Alice Faye Duncan - Winning Lessons from the Life of Martin Luther King Jr.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: If Alice Faye Duncan is speaking or teaching anywhere, go to whatever event that is! Brilliant speaker, supersmart, energizing presence and also has the best eyeglasses. Alice shares in this breakout session the history of Dr. King's life and how his life lessons can relate to or inspire your writing life.

We'll share just a few:

Lesson #1: Take your writing orders from a higher power. It doesn't matter what you call that higher power, but ideas from that bigger better universal power are not trends, Alice learned from King that the trend is not the answer, take that higher, universal signal to guide your best ideas.

Lesson #4: Pick a winning writing team. You are a member of SCBWI, there are so many well studied, well-read members of this organization, get your critique group and community going as you find your path to publication.

Lesson #5: Use your power to help others. Alice says, "I have all this understanding [about the world of writing] now. I have it, honey, and it has been hard won."

"Take what you have been given and be a blessing to others, don't stop those donations, but give you. Give you."

We also got to meet Mildred P Waters who was in the audience! She's written more than 20 books since the sixties. Mildred had never been in a library until college, all of those new books inspired her to go into teaching, and when she began to teach in a school that was predominantly African American, the only book that had African American characters in it was Keats's SNOWY DAY. She wrote to the publisher asking for more books like that for her students to see themselves in, and the publisher told her, "Write them."

So she did.

Mildred says, "I felt like I was not a creator, the children were the creators, all I had to do was listen to them... Be still, be kind, and listen, and the muses will come to you, and then you write."

You might have heard of her Coretta Scott King Award winning Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World ? Mildred's next book comes out soon, Something Inside So Strong.

I'm guessing Alice would be okay with Mildred sharing this blog post spotlight, so here's a link to Mildred's Smithsonian interview from the Library of Congress

Author Panel Creating Memorable Characters for Series - Bruce Hale

Bruce Hale has written over 50 books, picture books to middle grade novels. He's excited to talk about writing series' characters.

Bruce says a main character is memorable if they have a unique point of view and attitude, those elements combine to give you a great VOICE. He's made seven series, and the ones that stay in print have those strong attitudes and views from the very first page.

As an example, he shares the first lines of THE MALTED FALCON, his first book in the Chet Gecko series.

Focus on making the character first, that's usually the way, though sometimes it can be a situation that sparks an idea.

When he was asked to write CLARK THE SHARK, he had no idea it would turn into a nine-book series, and he credits its success with the deep development of the main character, Clark, and that readers wanted to keep having fun with him.

Bruce is working on a standalone novel right now, which he finds very scary, to only be able to give this character that one moment in life.

"Drawing pictures of the characters is part of my process for writing, I was a cartoonist before I was an author, and what a character looks like often shapes their personality in a way just writing about them does not."

Is there anything you do to get to know your characters better?

Paula Danziger recommended an exercise that Bruce likes, which is to describe what is in your character's closet and what it says about your character. Sometimes he'll do an interview with his characters.

Working on character isn't just working on the character, but the setting can also form and change a character's personality.

Author Panel: Creating Memorable Main Characters for a Book Series - Ben Clanton & Debbi Michiko Florence

Ben Clanton
Debbi Michiko Florence (Photo credit Roy Thomas)

Ben Clanton is the author/illustrator of the Narwhal and Jelly books) as well as an editor-at-large for the Little Bigfoot imprint of Sasquatch Books.

Debbi Michiko Florence is the author of the Jasmine Toguchi and My Furry Foster Family series.

Both were part of the author panel focusing on the development of characters for book series.

What makes a memorable character? 

Debbi: When Debbi reads a book, she wants to feel comfortable with the character, like they're a friend.

Ben: He thinks it's vital to have a character connect with the reader.

When you're starting out, do you start with character or plot? 

Debbi: Jasmine Toguchi started off with an idea she encountered in a newspaper, a story about a Japanese family that got together to make mochi in the traditional way. According to tradition, the man pounds the mochi and the woman rolls it. But her character, a girl, wanted to pound the mochi, and she wouldn't leave Debbi alone.

Ben: It starts with character. He gets to know them, sometimes for a period of years. His original inspiration for Narwhal and Jelly was a book of photographs that captivated his imagination. He found himself filling pages in his sketchbook with narwhals and other creatures. He started asking them questions. What would they do? He started dressing them up as super heroes. And then one day he was standing in line for ice cream and was smelling waffle cone, and it occurred to him that he'd look like a narwhal if he put his waffle cone on his head. Then he knew his character was sweet and on a perpetual sugar rush. A foil character, Jellyfish, was more cautious, and then this pair inspired a whole lot of story ideas.

When do you know what your characters look like? 

Debbi: She can't draw, but when she got the sketches of Jasmine from illustrator Elizabet Vukovic, she cried. She loved her (even though she had a better wardrobe than Debbi.

Ben: All of his characters start in his sketchbook. With his potato creature, in 2011 he started drawing a little dirt clod creature that would eat all of the cute things in his sketchbook. They wouldn't go away. He didn't know why he felt a need to draw vicious potatoes, but he kept doing it. "If they won't go away, there must be a story there." He made a few alterations in how they looked, and their characters emerged.

How do you get in your character's head? 

Debbie: She journals as her character. She thinks about them all the time. Almost none of that goes into the story, but it helps her with her stories. Also, every draft, she gets deeper and deeper into character. She has to write several drafts to get into the character.

Ben: Even if you're not an illustrator, you can sketch your character. Make a visual map of their lives. It can be a good exercise to help you get to know your characters.

Author Panel: Creating Memorable Main Characters for a Book Series - Lisa Yee

Lisa Yee
Photo Credit: Emi Fujii
Lisa Yee has written twenty novels and chapter books for kids. In addition to her Millicent middle grade series, DC Super Hero Girls as well as several books for the American Girl book series. She

When asked what makes a memorable character, Lisa responded that even if a character is unfamiliar to the reader, there is something about them that is familiar. Lisa also responded affirmatively that she puts herself in her books. But she quickly added that she steals from others' lives around her. Her Bobby books center on her son. Dan Santat illustrated the series and came to her house to draw her son, so art is based on him too.

Another question focused on whether the creators start with character or plot as they craft a series. Lisa starts with characters if she generates the series like Millicent Min, Girl Genius. Before she writes, Lisa spends time thinking about characters, what they like and don't like. It's a layered approach to their development. It's not until the end of the book do they come out fully formed.

But with the DC Super Hero Girls series, she focuses on plot because the super heroes' characters like Wonder Woman are well-known and understood. But at the same time, if I got her or any other character wrong, "people would want me dead" because they know and love these characters. But "after some mental gyrations, I realized that I'm just writing a story about these teens and their insecurities and I get started." 
Author Panel
L to R: Ben Clanton, Debbi Michiko Florence,
Bruce Hale and Lisa Yee
Follow Lisa on Twitter and find out more about her on her website.

Cynthia Leitich Smith - Writing Across Identity Elements

Cyn invited the audience to examine their own
identity elements as well as those of
the characters they create.
Cynthia Leitich Smith is a NY Times bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen books for children and teens. She also serves on the core faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Cynthia welcomed everyone to the workshop and shared some truths about the workshop's topic right away. She offered that some would be uncomfortable with this topic, but stated that "some discomfort comes with the territory. This is an area for learning." She reminded the audience that all of us are required to stretch beyond what we know and continue growing.

Cynthia posited that "we're all specific, multifaceted individuals. So are our characters. So are the children we write for. We can do better. We must do better."

She then requested the audience to take a moment to ask themselves and record, "What are my identity elements?" She reminded them that identity elements "don't define who we are, but inform. They help us connect and understand each other."

After this, she continued with over a dozen questions for them to consider, including their knowledge base and what information/research they need to make their characters three-dimensional and authentic. Some of the questions she posed:

  • Am I reading like a writer?  Read 100 books from the identity element I want to write whether I share that identity element or not.
  • How reliable is my education and research? Err heavily in case of primary sources. 
  • Is the situation or character more nuanced than my ability to represent it? 
  • How will represented children feel about my character/content? 
  • Do I need a professional reader? Remember to never use a professional readers' names without permission or as human body shields for errors or misrepresentations in your work. 

For more information about the writer and book sources Cynthia mentioned, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.

Suzanne Kaufman: The Craft Of Nonfiction Illustration

Suzanne Kaufman is the illustrator of the New York Times best-selling picture book All Are Welcome, and is the author/illustrator of  Confiscated and I Love Monkey. Her illustrations have also appeared in Take Your Pets to School Day, 100 Bugs, Naughty Claudine Christmas, and Samanthasaurus Rex. In addition to being a recipient of The Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Memorial Fellowship, Suzanne is also an SCBWI Illustration Mentorship and Portfolio Honor winner. She has lectured about illustration and animation around the US, England, Japan, and Peru. Find out more about Suzanne and her work at

Suzanne says she is a super-nerd. Her parents were both mathematicians, and she has also has always loved reading nonfiction. Her daily sketches and observations of her daughters playing outside piqued the interest of an editor, who asked for an art test.

“Failure for me is the only way I get better,” says Suzanne. When planning her schedule, she budgets for failure. She also budgets time for RESEARCH throughout the project. When waiting for feedback, Suzanne uses that time to play with character as well as world design.

“Schedule for rest. Stories need to breathe and you do, too!”  Suzanne also keeps documentation about how long she’s in a “waiting for feedback” period, just in case she needs to explain why she needs more time.

During the research phase, she talks to the editor about connecting with the author to check sources.

Suzanne takes out all the art notes not necessary in the manuscript, then breaks the text into pages. As she paginates, she looks for a sense of flow. As she goes through the paginated text, she makes her own illustration notes.

Suzanne says she always asks (right away) what the publisher’s process is for reviewing accuracy in a project, and she gets this checked when she is in her rough pencil phase, BEFORE final art.

Suzanne always figures out visual hierarchy when working on a nonfiction picture book e.g. silhouette, color, shape and details.

To build up a nonfiction picture book portfolio, Suzanne advises daily sketching. “Post it on social media to make yourself accountable and take it to a finish.” You never know who is watching, says Suzanne. “That’s how I was found five years ago!”

So much great information packed into Suzanne’s session!

Related posts in the SCBWI Conference Blog:
Suzanne Kaufman: Birth Of A Picture Book Author Panel
2015 Portfolio Showcase Winner Announcements (Suzanne was an Honor Winner)
2015 SCBWI-NYC - Suzanne Kaufman’s Conference Illustrator Journal
2014 SCBWI-NYC - Suzanne Kaufman’s Conference Illustrator Journal

M.T. Anderson - The Past is Another Country

M.T. Anderson performing his Delaware Theme Tune
M.T. Anderson is one of my favorite authors and speakers, you'll know his LA Times Book Prize winner FEED, or maybe Octavian Nothing, or Symphony of the Dead, and most recently The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge with Eugene Yelchin.

Tobin will specifically talk about how historical research can transform a novel or nonfiction piece. He starts with some quotes, this from British author L.P. Hartley: "The past is another country. They do things differently there."

And from John W. Campbell, an important author and editor during the golden age of science fiction:

"Too few build civilizations before they build stories. But a story is only an incident, and an incident takes place against and because of the civilization. And a civilization is a mass of a billion details, each interacting with the others. Histories tell of kings and emperors and dictators. To get a picture of the civilization they ruled, archaeologists seek broken pots and beds and plowshares, the details of life that give the forgotten times reality. Not kings, but broken pots paint life's realities."

Tobin says he doesn't love the 18th century just because everyone was a super snappy dresser, it's the strangeness of the past that makes it fascinating to compare that same place against today's time.

The Octavian Nothing book kernel idea came about because he'd read something about the Pox Party. In the 18th century, small pox was a huge huge problem decimating societies. If you made an incision and put matter from the sores of a small pox victim into your own body, you'd get a less severe version of the disease, people (usually young people) would be closed up in a house together for a month, with no contact from the outside world, curtains drawn.

"Like an episode of The Breakfast Club movie but with running pox pus sores," says Tobin.

Tobin recommends doing your research from general/broad overview histories, like an inverted pyramid, drilling down to more specific events/issues/people. He read general histories of the Revolutionary War period, then histories of the region of Boston he wanted to write about, and then onto a certain biographies of people living there during that time period, and so on.

As you read: Go to the footnotes! Any general history anecdote that inspires you, look for where that came from in the book's bibliography.

At the same time he's doing general research, which is chronological, Tobin is also doing social history which he describes as more of a fluffy cloud level of information, what are people eating/wearing, where do they get gun powder from, etc.

He loves the Writer's Guide to Every Day Life In... series, though they do have a few drawbacks—A problem with scope, the Middle Ages spans a thousand years, not everything can by represented in one book; and the series is well-trod, they are used by authors everywhere.

But the series always does cite their sources, so try going to the bibliography there, too, for making your work more unique.

The point of doing social history research early in the process and even as you are writing your first draft, Tobin says, is that sometimes you discover important facts that may turn into important plot points.

"Even while writing there's a wonderful felicity to continue to do that sort of social research."

Establish your setting mood and plot, but use this research to highlight the differences between that time and the present. Give your reader the tools to understand what those historical details signify.

Think about how historical facts really play out on the ground and how you could use or omit them for your stories.

Details should give you a stronger sense of your character in that time, and should also help you move past the clichés we all think we know of those times and experiences.

Elana K. Arnold and Brandy Colbert: Survival Skills for Novelists

Photo of Brandy Colbert by Jesse Weinberg
Veteran, award-winning authors Elana K. Arnold and Brandy Colbert have a number of wonderful books between them (see the partial lists below).

Their session, intended to the published pros in the audience, contained a wealth of information about how to manage their time, creativity, and relationships at this stage of the publishing game.

Community becomes an important part of the process.

There are the bookstores where we do events—here, Brandy likes to send a thank you note every time.

And then there's social media and online communities. Here, a key thing to keep in mind, especially when you're committing stuff to print (even digitally): Remember that your work lives forever. So be careful in what you say, that you don't complain needlessly or without being aware of your audience.

Elana said social media isn't mandatory for writers. There are other ways you can connect with the world. "But if you like it, then great!"
Photo of Elana Arnold by Davis Arnold

Remember why you write

Elana said it can be scary to write when you're thinking about what someone else thinks. Instead, remind yourself why you write. These are her reasons:

  • To explore the things that thrill, terrify and discomfit me
  • To remind myself that I am a human being
  • To remind myself that I am not alone

Challenge yourself

Brandy likes to write books that scare her. Her first MG scared her. Writing from two POVs scared her. But now she knows she can do it!

  • Don't be afraid to start or take on projects that scare you
  • Try something you haven't done before, or retry something you've failed to accomplish
  • Write a book that you don't know how to write
  • Stretch during revision into a new shape

Remember that publishing is an unpredictable business

We don't have control over a lot of things:

  • If agents or editors will move or quit
  • If our book will win awards
  • If our book will "sell well"
  • If people will "like" or "read" our book
  • Almost everything else

Some of Brandy's books
Little & Lion
The Revolution of Birdie Randolph
Finding Yvonne

Some of Elana's books
What Girls Are Made of
A Boy Called Bat
The Red Hood
What Riley Wore

Lunch with Mem Fox

Lin Oliver and Mem Fox

Mem Fox

Mem Fox is the author of so many beloved books for young readers, includingBonnie and Ben Rhyme Again, Possum Magic, Where is the Green Sheep, and 10 Little Fingers and 10 Little Toes.

In her introduction, Lin Oliver pointed out Mem's status as a living legend in our field.

"As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to creating picture books for young children, there is no one in the world who practices the art better than Mem Fox," Lin said.

The lunch-time legend talk started with a treat: Mem read 10 Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes to us.

Believe it or not, she thought she was done with writing. She even called her editor in the U.S., Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Books, saying as much. But then she went to an event and saw babies from all around the world.

She was inspired, and on an airplane flight, she came up with the idea for the book and wrote it out in a tiny notebook in a fifteen-minute flurry.

Then, of course, she had to call Allyn back.

Mem got started writing picture books as an assignment meant to help her understand how difficult PBs are to write. She set out to write a love story to Australia, and she found an illustrator, Julie Vivas,—and after getting nine rejections in five years, that 10th editor said yes. Possum Magic, published in 1983, is Australia's bestselling book ever. It's sold 5 million copies to date.

She continued 14 years teaching drama and continued writing, but decided when she was 50 that she wanted to focus on writing because "it's a business."

Lin identified key qualities to Mem's work: brevity, rhythm, and rhyme.

What is your process of compacting the text you want to tell?

Mem learned after her first round of rejections that you have to set up a PB quickly—in the first couple of lines. A story for babies, like 10 Little Fingers..., it has to be very short. For older children, Mem permits longer stories, but she uses the Word Count feature to trim, and her success on this score gets her excited .

"I force myself to get rid of the rubbish," Mem said.

Sometimes she cuts too much, so she prints hard copies of every single change she makes. Sometimes she realizes an earlier draft was better.

Lin also asked about rhythm and wanted to know where Mem learned this skill. 

She said it comes from the King James version of the Bible.  She grew up listening to that and loved the musicality of that. Then she went to drama school and soaked up Shakespeare. She also grew up in a book-filled house in Africa, and she used to wander the garden clutching a poetry book to her chest, learning it by heart.

"It was in my veins," she said. "More importantly, it was in my heart."

She also listened to Sir John Gielgud reading British poetry on her record player.

About rhyme: 

Children's book creators are often told never to write in rhyme. How does Mem make a decision about writing in rhyme? Usually the impulse is that she knows she's writing for very, very young children. The books she writes are a step up from nursery rhymes. Her rhyming books aren't stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. "It's too difficult not to force a rhyme when you're writing a story."

When she's writing a book with a story in it, she can break a reader's heart and then mend it before the book is finished. "I don't believe you can do that if you write in rhyme."

She thinks that rhyme can be cute. It can be funny. It can be entertaining. But can it get that broken heart? I think only prose can do that.

And the SCBWI Stephen Mooser Member of the Year Award Winner Is...

Natascha Biebow and Stephen Mooser

... Natascha Biebow, who is the regional advisor for the British Isles, and—we kid you not—the recipient of an honor from Her Majesty the Queen. Natascha is also the author of The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons.

Congratulations to Natascha, and thank you for your hard work on behalf of children's writers and illustrators. 

Denene Millner - Love Letters for Black Children: The Importance of Diverse Books

Denene Millner is the Editor of her eponymous imprint, which has published the award-winning Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut. She is the author/co-author of thirty-one books, including six NY Times bestsellers. Her background is of an award-winning journalist, magazine editor, and parenting columnist. 

To open her session, Denene shared a montage of videos where Toni Morrison addresses the false construct of race, racism and whiteness centering itself at the expense of those around them. Denene said that Toni's Song of Solomon was the first book she read by a Black woman and she was in college.

Denene Millner
When Denene's daughter was an infant in 1999, finding books featuring Black children by Black authors were not plentiful. She found books by the Pinckney family of creators, Eloise Greenfield, and Just Us Books. It prompted her to begin writing stories that reflected Black children's lives and starting her My Brown Baby website to help people know her books and those of others existed.

Denene left the audience with several takeaways. Here are a few:

  • Trust Black storytellers. She illustrated this point by sharing an upcoming title, Just Like A Mama, a picture book written by Alice Faye Duncan and illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. The picture book centers fictive kinship, A common reality in the Black community where story focuses on a Black child cared for a Black woman who is not her blood relative and has not legally adopted her.
  • Culturally Competent Editors Matter. Don't be afraid to reference Black culture. She shared the story of a white editor who wondered why an angel in Crown needed to be Black when "angels are angels." The audience nodded in agreement when she relayed this exchange and how she shared with the editor that most angels depicted in books and sold as statues are white not Black. But Black angels exist and need to represented.
  • Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut won
    2018 Newbery Honor,
    Caldecott Honor, and
    Coretta Scott King Honors
  • It's Bigger Than a Hashtag. Black lives matter every day. Books need to reflect that. 

Denene's imprint only publishes books created by Black authors and illustrators because fewer opportunities exist for Black creators to tell their stories for children. She has dedicated her work to improve that. She is open to submissions.

Find out more about Denene and the launch of her imprint, follow her on Twitter.

Anna Shinoda: Writing Through Stress and Trauma: Publish Your Stories That Heal

Anna Shinoda is the author of Learning Not to Drown, a story of a young girl who struggles to preserve her own identity amidst a chaotic, dysfunctional family unit. Anna married musician Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and has led efforts with the band's nonprofit, Music for Relief. As a mental health advocate, she serves as a senior advisor to The Campaign to Change Direction.

This session will focus on how writing helps us process stress and trauma.

Anna starts this session by offering an exercise: Write down 3 to 5 things causing you the most stress. (Pick one of those things to tackle today, and save the others for another.)

When we experience something traumatic, our memory is often not consistent. Writing can help put our brain at rest because it takes something that doesn't have logic or consistency and give it a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end.

There's power in taking something terrible and making something else out of it.

One of the things Anna did when writing Learning Not to Drown, Anna made her main character stronger than she could ever be. And with writing of trauma, Anna finds that it removes her from the situation and allows her to have perspective.

You can write an alternate ending for your trauma. You can fictionalize it.

When writing and rewriting challenging scenes, Anna had to find ways to make it feel safer to work on it. She lights a candle, she limits the time she spend on it, she knows someone will be available to talk to if she's upset, and she does things that make her feel good.

Anna recommends bringing a focus to gratitude. It can create a mindset shift that's positive.

What is favorite time of the day? And what are you grateful for? 

Learning Not to Drown started as a journal to understand what happened in her childhood.

Once you write about your trauma, what do you want to do with it?

There are so many things you can do: you can make art, you can do a ceremony, you can tear it up and throw it away. If you want to publish it, then you have to ask yourself: How can I make this story marketable? Consider how you can write it into a plot. The plot doesn't have to be the trauma.

"Not all published writing is good and not all good writing is publishable."

You also have to ask yourself if you want to put the story out in the world. If the answer is yes, know what your boundaries will be around talking about it when it is in the world.

It's important to responsibly represent mental health.

Adib Khorram: Dismantling Toxic Masculinity Through Young Adult Literature

Darius the Great is Not Okay
Adib Khorram is the debut author of Darius the Great is Not Okay, which won the William C. Morris Award, among others. He started by acknowledging that we are on Yannga-Tongva tribal land, and recommended we read the adaptation of An Indigenous People's History of the United States.

His talk was about toxic masculinity: what it means, why it's harmful, and how literature can be used to examine, deconstruct, and dismantle the system.

Here's a definition of toxic masculinity by Harris O'Malley:

And here are three characteristics of toxic masculinity:
  • Entitlement: you believe you are entitled to something because you are a man. (Incel culture is an example.) 
  • Domination over others. It often leads to violence.
  • Rejecting vulnerability and emotions because they're associated with the feminine.
"If you don't account for systems of power in your writing, you are tacitly upholding them," Adib said. 

Adib talked about books that unpack toxic masculinity:

  • Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
  • Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  • Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton
  • Black Wings Beating by Alex London
  • We'll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss
  • Tradition by Brendan Kiely
And here are books that model healthy masculinity

  • When I was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds (offers a non-white version) 
  • Darius the Great Is Not Okay 

Rape culture is also an insidious feature of toxic masculinity. Books that address it well:

Damsel by Elana K. Arnold
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

What does healthy masculinity like? 

"I fuckin' love you, bro." Guys can admit affection as long as there's a swear word in front of it.

He showed us a Gillette ad on the subject, which he hopes as a sign that the tide is turning:

He's trying to keep up with his own reading, consider the stories of additional marginalized voices, including trans and non-binary voices, disabled voices.

Follow Adib on Twitter, and Instagram.

Sunday Awards Presentation

The Martha Weston Grant was established by the Hairston Family to remember author/illustrator Martha Weston. Martha published over fifty picture books, and also published her first middle grade novel shortly before her death. This grant encourages authors and illustrators to nurture their creativity in a different genre of children’s books.

  • Runner up: Lori Evert (Minnesota)
  • Winner: Wendy Wahman (Western Washington)

The SCBWI Tribute Fund commemorates members of the children’s book community, their lives, and their work by funding all-expense scholarships to the SCBWI International Summer and Winter Conferences for the general membership. This year there are two scholarship recipients:

  • Winner: Sally Spear (Rocky Mountain)
  • Winner: Tricia Brown (Alaska)

The Ann Whitford Paul-Writer’s Digest Manuscript Award is an annual award given to a Most Promising Picture Book manuscript. The winner receives a $1,000 grant to encourage the development of an excellent picture book manuscript. This year there are two honorable mentions and one winner:

  • Honorable Mention: Gayle Webre (Louisiana/Mississippi) for When I Was an Alligator
  • Honorable Mention: Midge Ballou Smith (Utah/Southern Idaho) for Bert and Wert: We Do the Dirty Work
  • Winner: Sherry Smith (California, San Francisco North & East Bay) for Rosa and Bessie

The On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award was established in 2012 with funding from Martin and Sue Schmitt of the 455 Foundation, with the purpose of fostering the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books. There are two award recipients for this year:

  • Winner: Amira Kunbargi (California, San Francisco North & East Bay)
  • Winner: Medina (New York, Metropolitan)

The IPOC Women's Scholarship awarded annually to two Indigenous or People of Color who identify as women. This is the award's inaugural year.

  • Winner: Kelly J. Baptist (Michigan)
  • Winner: Rehannah Azeeyah Khan (Caribbean: South)

The Kweli/SCBWI Outstanding Manuscript Award is awarded annually to a PoC writer. This is the award's inaugural year, and the winner was first announced at the 2019 Kweli Color of Children's Literature Conference.

  • Winner: Lisa Stringfellow (New England)

SCBWI is proud to launch the Kate Dopirak Craft and Community (KDCC) Award, which is offered in celebration of Kate Dopirak, a picture book author and beloved SCBWI member who lived her life lighting the way for others. The award will go to the author of a promising manuscript who is experiencing financial barriers to attending the annual summer conference. The inaugural award in 2020 will go to a picture book writer who will receive the following:

  • Full tuition to the 49th Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Annual Summer Conference, July 24-27, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA;
  • A 20-minute phone consultation with literary agent Tracey Adams from Adams Literary; and
  • A 20-minute phone consultation with children’s editor Andrea Welch from Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster.

Keynote: Yuyi Morales

Yuyi Morales

Yuyi Morales was born in Xalapa, Mexico, where she currently resides.

A professional storyteller, dancer, choreographer, puppeteer, and artist, she has won the prestigious Pura Belpré Award for Illustration five times, for Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (2003), Los Gatos Black on Halloween (2006), Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (2008), Niño Wrestles the World (2013), and Viva Frida (2014), also a Caldecott Honor Book.

Her latest book, Dreamers, won this year’s Pura Belpré Award and was also named a New York Times Best-Illustrated Book.

Newbery Medalist Meg Medina introduced Yuyi, saying, "What she has been, most of all, is vibrant and living proof that there is a way for us to dream."

Yuyi started with an important question: Why do we make children's books?

She believes "there is an inner purpose—it's something that sounds like love."

And, she said, love is how we recognize ourselves in others. It's how we care. It's how we say that children are important to us, and that there is something in the world we can put there with love.

We can learn how to make children's books through the SCBWI. But how do we learn to love?

"We usually learn how to love when we get together. We learn how to love when we share what we know. No one knows everything, and no one knows nothing."

She offered her experience, hoping we can make a connection and learn from each other.

When Yuyi was a child, she loved to draw, and she learned how to copy. And she'd often go into her bedroom to draw because it felt like such an intimate thing. She learned how to draw herself by looking in the mirror so much that she can draw her eyes and nose without even looking.

She didn't have children's literature when she was a child. She was born in Mexico and grew up there. They didn't have children's books, but they did have comic books and graphic novels. She studied those and learned what she liked. When she was 12, she discovered Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and then she became a teenager and stopped drawing and didn't think about it again until she became an adult and had a son.

She started drawing her son, again and again. And when he was two months old, her family came to the United States. It wasn't something she'd planned to do, but her future husband was a U.S. citizen. Then, because of the complexities of immigration, she couldn't go back and she lost her support system.

Then her mother in law took her to a public library, and that changed her life forever. "In the public library, I fell in love with books. In picture books I finally found something I understood and something that understood me."

As she learned how to do art, her dining room table served as her schooIn 2000, she won the SCBWI's Don Freeman grant. That submission became a book called Just a Minute.

She told us the origin stories of more of her books, which are answers to questions and struggles and fears. "Once I started making stories about things I was scared of, maybe they become my friends."

She is drawn to the craziest ideas she can imagine—and that's how she decides. If it's crazy, then it's for her. Five years ago, Yuyi returned to Mexico. She eventually had a place she could create again.

After the 2016 presidential election, she struggled to create. But then decided maybe it was time for immigrants to tell their stories. "It is time for everybody to say who we are. Not who others think we are."

And that's how Dreamers came about. She wanted to tell her story, about a woman who came from Mexico to the United States. Her story was also her baby son's story. She wondered at first who would be interested in the story. Initially, when people asked her story, she said she came with nothing. But she started rethinking that. And she realized she didn't come with nothing: She came with her stories, her hopes, her talent, her passion, her hands.

"I decided for this book, I was going to tell that truth."

(Written by Martha Brockenbrough for Mike Jung)

AGENTS PANEL: Molly O'Neill and Beth Phelan

Molly O'Neill is an agent with Root Literary. She loves the creative process and early-stage project development, is invigorated by business strategy and entrepreneurial thinking, and is fascinated by the intersections of creativity, commerce, and community. Her client list is comprised of authors, illustrators, and cartoonists.

What does a trend and an evergreen mean you?

Trend: Something that's capturing interest and imagination and has swelled up, and as a community we are all talking about. It's often something that's popular for a brief amount of time.

Evergreen: Books that have a sense of universality, transcend time, and connect generation to generation.

A book is a combination between the specific and the universal. If it's too specific, you end up having niche appeal...too universal, you end up with a book that's platitudes.

In publishing, agents/publishers are time travelers. They are ahead of what's on the bookshelf, which is why it's hard to catch up with a trend.

A lot more nonfiction is being published because the curriculum standards are calling on nonfiction in a particular way. The internet has also had an impact. Kids can google and get straight forward information right away, so now we're seeing a much more specific lens on the nonfiction being published. Books that cost money can't compete with information that's easy to get from the internet.

Molly recommends to her clients: "feed" yourself unique ingredients so you can create something unique.

Molly doesn't think of booksellers, teachers, or librarians as gatekeepers, but more as partners. If you are a book creator, start building those relationships now, don't wait until your book is out and you want them to sell it.

Molly loves a book that can be described as a love story of friendship. Molly says, "Take me anywhere. I want to travel through your book."

Molly doesn't think you can set out to write an evergreen. It's not what you decide, it's what the readers decide. Know where your book lives in the market. Who is the kind of reader for your book?

Beth Phelan has been an agent at Gallt & Zacker Literary since 2017. She represents authors of middle grade and young adult books and gravitates to stories and characters that inspire, and anything with a touch of humor and the bittersweet.  Beth is also the creator of #DVpit, a Twitter pitch event for marginalized creators, which she launched in April 2016.  Twitter: @beth_phelan, @DVpit_.

What does a trend and an evergreen mean you?

Beth sees trends and evergreens as the same, but trends are in the foreground rather than the background.

Although it's hard to catch a trend, Beth also sees publishers chasing them. A lot of publishers are coming up with graphic novel imprints because they're doing well. They're still selling. Intellectual Property acquisition is on the rise.

As the agents have a conversation about the own voice and diversity in the current market, Beth notes that the industry might not want to call it trend, but it treats it like one. This causes some worry for Beth, as marginalized authors feel this might be their opportunity to get their foot in the door, and because of that what kind of books do they need to create to get that foot in the door.

Beth still hears from publishers, "we already have one of those."

Beth was a constant re-reader and she'd love to find a long middle grade that creates that same experience for readers. She'd also love to find darker middle grade.

"I used to say I don't do historical, but then one of my authors wrote one. So, never say never."

Beth says to write what you want...if a trend comes and you love it then you should get it out while you're passionate about it.

Agents Panel: Adriana Dominguez, Jennifer Rofé and Alexander Slater

Literary Agents
L to R: Adriana Dominguez, Molly O'Neill,
Beth Phelan, Jennifer Rofé and
Alexander Slater 

Literary agents Adriana Dominguez, Jennifer Rofé, and Alex Slater started out discussing trends (what is popular in a given timeframe), evergreens (universal, timeless feel) and how to sell your book in today's market. Jen cited Merci Suarez Changes Gears as an evergreen book with its focus on a child claiming agency and changing family dynamics.

Concerning trends, Jen warned that "you have to be careful with trends because you'll never catch one. Those deals, those books were sold years and years before they come out on the market."

Alex shared that he recently sold a middle grade horror novel, but he knows that by the time he tries to do another one the trend will be elsewhere.

When asked about nonfiction, the panel offered a number of noteworthy responses.

Adriana says she is not a trend chaser and sees nonfiction is an evergreen. The subject, the way the story is told is more important. We're in a moment of reckoning in the country. Fresh perspectives get us looking at things in new ways. There's less resistance now to stories about people and events that have not been as well known compared to five or six years ago.

Alex responded to the question about diverse books and how they "unearth little known points of history" is a privileged view. He attended the SCBWI OK conference this spring and learned about Tulsa Race Massacre. There are many stories that people know and have been impacted by these events, so there needs to be a focus on these stories.

Jen shared that We Need Diverse Books is less a movement, but a correction. It's what should have always been happening.

Adriana said that some of us (agents) have always been focused on this and the numbers are increasing. But it's still so small compared to books being published with characters who are animals and inanimate objects. She does feel that editors are doing better at listening to diverse authors and illustrators as they bring their stories and art to books.

The agents also offered stories of how they help manage their clients' work and when it's best to submit. As business partners with creators, they are committed to helping the creators best position themselves in the market.

For more information about Adriana, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.

To find out more about Jen Rofé, head over to her agency website or Twitter.

Learn about Alex by visiting his website and Twitter.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Members Book Sale

Here are a few shots from the jam-packed, joy-filled member book sale, where people brought copies, spread the word about them, and sold them to eager readers.